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Playing Texas hold’em, there are two ways to win a pot. You can hold the best hand at the showdown or you can bluff out your opponents. Since introducing the Esther Bluff several years ago, I have kept track for each session played of how many winners and how many losers – my statistics for bluffing wins and losses.

Considering typical betting sequences, I have estimated the break-even for bluffing is about 30%. If I win more than 30% of my bluffs, then I am (happily) ahead. But we do need to make allowance for opponents who would have lost with a weaker hand had they called my bluff. On that basis, I have increased the break-even to 40%.

My bluffing stats

All in all, the Esther Bluff apparently has been very good to me, based on my statistics. Here are my findings while playing only low-limit cash games. When I first introduced the Esther Bluff back in 2009, for the 33 sessions I played to year-end I won an average of 63%. That indicates my bluffs were quite profitable. My successful bluffs substantially outnumbered the losing bluffs by about 2-to-1, comfortably higher than our estimated break-even.

The statistics were about the same for 2010. During that time, I honed my bluffing style and made better use of reading my opponents and looking for tells. Also, I realized a mistake I had been prone to make: trying to bluff against a Calling-Station. My mistake.

Then, in 2011, my bluffing statistics took a significant leap up, averaging 74% for the year. They have been holding steady since then. What’s more, it doesn’t seem to make any difference whether I am playing $3-$6 or $4-$8 limit (but the pots are somewhat bigger at the higher limit game).

I also look for situations that lend themselves to bluffing. One of the best times to try is when you have been drawing for a straight or flush, and made the bet on the turn because the poker odds were favorable; but you did not connect. You are up against one, perhaps two opponents, and they show weakness.

This situation ideally lends itself to using the Esther Bluff. (I always do so when bluffing.) Bet out if you are first to declare; and by all means, bet if they all check to you. It’s even more effective if you have been winning; now your opponents fear and respect you.

There are poker experts who will assure you that you can’t bluff successfully in lower-limit games. I believe that is true for stakes of $2-$4 and lower. On the opposite extreme, bluffing is a key strategy in no-limit games. (Have you watched the action on the TV poker tournaments?) The higher the stakes, the more likely a big bluff is effective. The Esther Bluff can improve your results.

I am particularly pleased with my semi-bluffs using the Esther Bluff. There are many occasions when I semi-bluff on the turn; I can win if my opponents all fold on my turn bet. And if I fail to connect on the River, I can bluff again. In addition, over time I have improved my ability to assess my opponents, and learned to semi-bluff when the opportunities are best.

As long as we are exploring the fascinating strategy of bluffing, next issue we will offer several interesting bluffing tips.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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